join me at the table
Down below groups of people surround the town hall and smoke rises from a bonfire. Our market bag filled with plates, cutlery and glasses clink against my black dress.
Once we're down young men give us plastic white cups filled with Pastis, a liquorice flavored alcohol served with water before dinner. Our tongues growing numb from the strong aperitif, we make our way inside to find seats at one of the long tables with paper tablecloths. Families have marked their names on where they're eating, and we find a place in the middle of two families.
Soon we're talking with all of those around us. The man beside my mother has five children from three mothers. His friend leans over when he talks to me, boasting about his visit to Montreal and something to do with working in films. Wine in old water bottles start to arrive at our tables, and two men with acordians work their way around everyone chanting and clapping.
Villagers dressed in red t-shirts move quickly around the tables to feed the crowd of around 500 that have gathered for the feast. The first course is melon, nothing fancy, but the melon is fresh, aromatic, and the perfect way to start a meal. The stranger next to my mother has no knife, so he borrows her, and it seems we're all comfortable with each other within moments. Even the man with a mustache a few seats down starts to amuse himself by flinging bits of bread with his knife up and down the table. I shake my finger at him and laugh.
The main course is sausage, which has been roasted over the open fire, and large pots of aligot, the famous potato cheese concoction of the area. The aligot itself is a presentation, with a man making a point of showing how high up he can pull the stringy substance in the air with his paddle. The crowds cheer, and photos are taken all around.
I have no stomach for red meat, but the man beside my mother happily takes my sausage, as I stare in amazement as the locals dig into seconds and thirds of sausage and aligot, passionate about eating, drinking, and celebrating summer. I watch them dreamily, elated to be in a country where food is so deeply appreciated.
I fill up happily on bread, melon, fresh salad, local wine and eventually a perfect apple tart. When we leave we say goodnight to all of those around us, the strangers who have smiled and spoken with us all night.
It was a perfect evening, a feast with all the right ingredients.
Back at home, as my mother falls asleep in the next room, I brew pots of plum jam and fall deeper in love country life.